Fun Stuff: The First Bruce

If you haven’t ever heard of Bruce Tegner (1929–1985) then you haven’t been in the arts long enough. He was, for a few years, probably the richest man in the martial arts.

One of the first ...

As the whole field began to flower in the Sixties, Tegner was scribbling about everything. A Judo black belt and former California State Champion, he had no problem cranking out books about Karate, Kung Fu, Tai Chi and even Savate when very few people could pronounce any of them correctly. Like a mad pasta machine he churned out strings of noodly prose on subjects he hardly knew without (possibly at their requests)  mentioning his sources. To the uninitiated he appeared to know all things martial.

Ark Yuey Wong's Kung Fu

Take the case of his Kung Fu book. Here he is spouting his opinions and demonstrating the forms with nary a word about any sifu. He mentions how quaint Kung Fu is, how ancient, how sophisticated, how impractical. But he doesn’t mention his teacher. Luckily we have special knowledge. His black uniform with the doorman huge white stripes comes from no other studio than that of grandmaster Ark Yuey Wong, the first man to openly teach the art to non-Chinese. How long Tegner studied with Wong (if indeed he did rather than just donning the uniform) I don’t know, but it is obvious that it wasn’t long enough. Stiff shoulders, short stances, wrong head position, cramped footwork: he looked exactly what he was, a Judo guy who had picked up some Karate and delivered it into his Kung Fu. The last section of the book, which just sort of throws the art of Tai Chi in as a bonus, you don’t even want to talk about.

Um, Tai Chi...

Oddly enough we all are somewhat in his debt because what he wrote about was not available in English at the time. I remember standing with the book in one hand and a stick in the other trying to mimic the tiny pictures myself. And Tegner was not inaccurate, that is the first courtesy of martial arts. He was just uninspired.

Thus ends the public story of Bruce Tegner which most martial artists know.

He was also the child of Jujitsu parents. His father’s teacher, his father and his mother once had an act which centered around the art. They would go up on stage, explain the art and demonstrate. The big finale came when they would ask for a young, strong practitioner to come up out of the audience and the pretty June Tegner would proceed to throw him around like someone decking a new caught salmon. The young, strong guy from the audience was a shill, a helper who knew how to look tough and take the falls. I know this because, in later years he was my best friend, a professor of art and the author of our Qigong for seniors DVD.

Small world.

3 Responses to “Fun Stuff: The First Bruce”

  1. I remember buying every book of his that I could find in my local bootstores in the early 70s.

    I wish that I had a home movie of that taiji form that I taught myself from his pocketbook. That would be priceless viewing, particularly for my current students. On second thought …

    That solo form might have been the first taste of taiji for me but I’m certainly glad that I didn’t stop there!

  2. John says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I too read every book he wrote. At that time there were not many books on Asian martial arts. And as outlandish as some of his books were, they weren’t that far different or worse than the other books available at the time.

    I had always wondered about his background.

  3. Michael Breems says:

    Some of Tegner’s comments are indeed “noodly”, such as: “Tai Chi is a means of perfecting the movements of Kung-Fu Karate” ??? However…. Observe the slow motion performance of the wing chun forms. I admit that I have never seen any style of Tai-Chi that resembles what is presented by Tegner other than a passing resemblance to Yang. The man demonstrating both the Tai-Chi and Kung Fu forms is not Tegner himself.

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